One Year Later, Mohammed bin Salman Still Getting Off Scot-Free In Khashoggi Murder

It's been one year since Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen in public again. We are no closer to justice in his case than we were a year ago.

It was one year ago today that Washington Post columnist, American Permanent Resident, and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It would be the last building that he would enter alive. Khashoggi, who had been living outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for years in no small part due to his criticism of the current regime, was visiting the embassy purportedly to obtain a document he needed to marry his fiance in Turkey. While his fiance waited outside, it is believed that he was murdered in cold blood by a security team sent from the KSA specifically for the purpose of killing him, under the direction and with the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Indeed, the evidence establishing the guilt of the man known popularly as “MBS” is rather overwhelming.

We know for a fact that Khashoggi entered the consulate thanks to photographic evidence showing him walking into the evidence shortly after 1:00 p.m. on that fateful day. Additionally, Khashoggi’s fiance was waiting for him across the street and saw him walk into the building. There is, however, no record of Khashoggi ever leaving. Despite that, the Saudis initially took the position that this is exactly what happened at the same time they made the absurd claim that they could not provide evidence to support the claim that he left the building because they did not keep recordings from their security cameras. In the weeks that followed, the evidence against the Saudis continued to mount, and the Saudi denials became even more ridiculous.

Once it became clear that the Saudi lies and evasions were not holding up to scrutiny, the government in Riyadh became scrambling to put forward a new series of explanations for what may have happened to Khashoggi, all of them obviously designed to shield the Crown Prince from culpability in the matter. First, the government put forward the theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance was due to an operation by what President Trump described as ‘rogue killers’ who acted without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. This hard-to-believe explanation was being circulated at the same time that evidence was being released, including the fact that Khashoggi had died inside the consulate and revealed certain facts surrounding his death, and the details surrounding the arrival and departure of a team of fifteen Saudis linked to the Crown Prince, military, and intelligence services who allegedly were involved in whatever happened to the Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident. Among these revelations was the fact that nearly all of the members of the aforementioned fifteen person team, including the alleged leaders, were linked in some way to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,  Despite all of this, the Saudis continued to assert that bin Salman knew nothing about what had happened to Khashoggi. This was an entirely implausible explanation that required one to forget everything we know about how things actually operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Finally, after it was clear that they were looking to pin responsibility for Khashoggi’s fate on a fall guy, the Saudis put forward an explanation claiming that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an operation that was carried out by people close to the Crown Prince but done entirely without his knowledge or authorization. They also claimed that the original intent of the operation had been to question Khashoggi and/or return him surreptitiously to the KSA. This story was no more credible than previous explanations, of course, but that is precisely the position that the Saudis took when they finally released an official “explanation” for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death that acknowledged that he was, in fact, dead and that his death had occurred when he was inside the consulate.

This explanation, though, maintained the hard to believe a claim that the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, which Riyadh maintained at the time was due to a rendition (a/k/a kidnapping) operation gone awry was not authorized at the highest levels before being carried out. Eventually, the Saudis acknowledged that it was the intention of the operation to kill Khashoggi, although they continue to maintain the increasingly implausible claim that the Crown Prince knew nothing about what was being carried out in the name of the country he leads.

Throughout all of this, the Trump Administration has stood steadfastly behind our so-called “allies” in Riyadh. As noted above, President Trump himself was the first person to publicly suggest the utterly ridiculous idea that the team sent to kill Khashoggi was acting without authorization from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

In the time that has followed since roughly the end of November when the Khashoggi matter largely disappeared from the news, the Trump Administration has not wavered in its support for the Saudi regime in general and Crown Prince bin Salman specifically. Instead, they have continued to coddle him and his family, to provide material and other support for his regime’s genocide in Yemen, and to take advantage of the United States at every turn.

Khashoggi’s colleagues at the Post have marked this sad occasion with a number of reflections by writers at the paper, and the Editorial Board remembers Khashoggi as well:

[T]he story of Khashoggi and Mohammed bin Salman is not over. The warnings the journalist sounded — often cast almost as friendly advice to the crown prince — have proved prescient. A year later, the Saudi regime continues to suffer the consequences of its persecution of opponents — especially women seeking greater rights — and its ill-conceived intervention in Yemen. Khashoggi warned that the persecution of activists would backfire, and it has; the regime is universally vilified by human rights groups, and Mohammed bin Salman has become a pariah in Western capitals.

Khashoggi asserted that the Yemen war not only was unwinnable but also would make the kingdom less secure. It has “increased the likelihood of domestic casualties and damage,” he wrote in a September 2018 column, which hinted that U.S.-made Patriot missile systems might not be enough to defend critical targets. A year later, he was proved tragically right when drones and cruise missiles, probably launched by Iran but claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, evaded those defenses and devastated the largest Saudi oil production complex.


Mohammed bin Salman also is losing ground in his campaign to stifle free expression and democracy in the Middle East. The Saudis and the UAE gave billions to prop up Sudan’s military regime in the hope it would withstand a mass protest movement, only to see the generals strike a deal for a three-year transition to democracy. Algeria, too, has seen the rise of a powerful democracy movement, and Tunisia is holding a robustly competitive presidential election. Recently, protests erupted in Egypt, where another military regime has received billions in Saudi subsidies, after a dissident businessman’s message went viral.

Mohammed bin Salman’s policies are carrying him toward a dead end — maybe even a precipitous crash. Mr. Trump, mired in scandal and preoccupied with his reelection campaign, is unlikely to do much to help him. The crown prince might still rescue himself, but only if he finally heeds the advice Khashoggi offered him: Release female activists and other political prisoners and punish those who tortured them; end the war in Yemen; allow peaceful critics like Khashoggi to come home and speak freely. Last but not least, the crown prince should stop offering half-truths and accept full responsibility for ordering the murder.

We don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. But we believe history will show that our lost friend and colleague Jamal Khashoggi was on the right side of the debate that Mohammed bin Salman thought, mistakenly, he could win with a bone saw

Unfortunately, I think the future is far grimmer than the Editors at the Post believe it to be. There is absolutely no evidence that Mohammed bin Salman feels threatened in any respect. His efforts to cover up Khashoggi’s murder and essentially pin responsibility for his death on a group of fall guys have proven to be largely successful. The genocidal war on Yemen continues to move forward with the support, and active assistance, of the United States and United Arab Emirates, and shows no sign of ending notwithstanding the horror it inflicts on the Yemeni people on a daily basis. He remains the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and still on course to become King on the death of his father. And, most important, he continues to enjoy the obsequious support of the Trump Administration. As long as all of that is true he has nothing to worry about. Finally, as the arrogance he displayed during his 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday revealed, he has no qualms about continuing to act in the manner that he has ever since Khashoggi turned on the regime in Riyadh to become a strong critic. As long as all of that continues to be the case, there will sadly be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. drj says:

    MBS was always going to get away with it.

    There is no country that has the ability and willingness to put sufficient pressure on Saudi Arabia. So nothing happens. Considering that MBS is the current Crown Prince, that would have to be an enormous amount of pressure, by the way. Think full-scale war or, at least, something close to that.

    But what on earth did you expect? To give an example that is a bit closer to home, George W. Bush is responsible for the illegal (obviously) torture of many, many people. Some of whom didn’t survive the ordeal.

    But as there is no country that has both the ability and willingness to put sufficient pressure on the US to have Bush’s ass extradited to The Hague, nothing is going to happen.


  2. Kathy says:


    But what on earth did you expect?

    $200 barrels of oil? That would be too steep a price.

    The best pressure that can be brought to bear on the Magic Kingdom, and the UAE BTW, is to reduce oil consumption massively. That will still take a few decades.

  3. Jen says:

    It’s shameful that nothing, nothing has been done with respect to this. An utter failure of leadership by Trump.

    I would think discussions with MBS on this topic would fall under the “not code-word protected but still managed to be stashed on the code-word server” category.